AOPA President Phil Boyer and his wife, Lois, have owned a Cessna 172 since 1992.
Looking back to the days immediately after passing my private checkride, I remember that the next experience was to check out in the flight school's Skyhawk, which seemed like an airliner to me after all my student pilot time in the two-seat Cessna 150. Hard to believe that model is now celebrating its fiftieth birthday, and this month your AOPA Pilot magazine is full of material and pictures on the Cessna 172. These pages are also very special to me, since my wife and I own and fly a 172N (N734EY). Yes, I have gone through personal ownership of a variety of singles and twins, but the Skyhawk is like a good bottle of wine, which seems to get better with age. N734EY was the airplane of choice when my wife, Lois, decided to go after her private certificate in the early 1990s. It served our needs perfectly: easy to fly, very forgiving, affordable to operate, and the 1977 model was priced right for our aviation bank account.
Looking back many years to my original checkout in the 172, however, I am also reminded of my joining the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association at the same time. Like the durable 172, your association has had a long history of service. It was five Philadelphia businessmen who, in 1939, with a looming World War II, saw the need for an organization to protect the interests of those who flew light airplanes for business and pleasure. At 67 years old, AOPA has a few more years on the first 172, but like the Cessna model we have grown and changed with age, while still holding onto our original purpose. The establishment of AOPA was based on serving members with three key initiatives: advocacy, information, and education. Original membership applications also stated another key to your organization: "keeping general aviation safe, affordable, and fun." Our dues in the early 1940s were $5 a year, and our membership was fewer than 5,000 pilots. Similar to the limited number of early owners of the Skyhawk, AOPA has continued to grow in membership size. In sharp contrast to the rising costs of aviation products, your $39 annual dues payment hasn't increased since 1990. If one adjusted the $5 dues in 1940 by inflation alone, an AOPA annual membership today would be $66.54.
Like Cessna has continued to improve on the tried-and-true design of the 172, so has AOPA continued to adjust its product mix to better serve our membership. In our formative years this very magazine didn't exist, and AOPA Pilot was merely a monthly insert in another publication. But to make good on one of our key principles — information — Pilot came into existence in March 1958. Long before the country embraced computers and the Internet, AOPA launched several online efforts, culminating now in aviation's largest and most comprehensive Web site, AOPA Online. Realizing that the needs of new and student pilots are different, we added AOPA Flight Training magazine in the late 1990s.
As membership has grown, so has the staff of AOPA, and it has become more specialized in serving the advocacy principle. AOPA's founders were correct, and with the outbreak of World War II there was considerable government regulation proposed to limit GA airspace access. The small but dedicated government affairs staff at the time effectively stopped many of these proposals, and pointed to the value of small airplanes in patrolling sensitive portions of our borders. It's ironic that since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, AOPA has literally found itself returning to its roots, with similar airspace advocacy.
In great part because of AOPA's efforts in 1994 to pass the General Aviation Revitalization Act, which provided some product liability reform for most general aviation aircraft, Cessna restarted production of single-engine, piston aircraft, particularly the 172. If not for the passage of this bill, Cessna may never have produced another 172 after 1986.
AOPA consistently has fought and won on regulations that would have imposed expensive equipage issues on owners of Skyhawks and other light airplanes. And, at the same time, your association has promoted technologies such as loran and GPS that bring huge benefits to pilots and owners.
In 1950, in the same decade the Skyhawk was born, the AOPA Air Safety Foundation was established to better serve our education principle. Its single mission is one of outreach to all pilots to make flying safer. With its early three-day ground schools and perennial safety seminars, the foundation has evolved to offer products for pilots at all levels, through print, video, audio, and now the largest collection of courses in its Online Safety Center. Just as the engineers at Cessna can be proud to have continued on a quest to make the 172 even safer, with small modifications through the new glass cockpits, all can be proud of the continued improvement of the GA accident record.
Now representing more than 400,000 owners and pilots, AOPA keeps the individual needs of each member of utmost importance. We are certainly aware of the wide range of products and services we must provide to everyone from an airline captain to a pilot who flies a Piper Cub without an electrical system. We have developed the term core member to represent the person who our advocacy, information, and education principles must fit whenever applied. This core member is a pilot who flies a four-place, single-engine, fixed-gear, piston airplane. There is no question that there is a link between the growth and history of AOPA and the fiftieth birthday of the venerable Cessna 172.